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• Farm Production in the Northeast
• Food Environment Factors Influence Diet Choices

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What if a credit union were created that focused on the unique needs of small, sustainably run farms and related businesses? This is the central question of the Maine Food System Credit Project (MFSCP) – a feasibility project sponsored jointly by MOFGA and Maine Farmland Trust.

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In his keynote speech at MOFGA’s Farmer to Farmer Conference in November 2012, just a month before his death, Russell Libby summarized MOFGA’s accomplishments, the state of organic agriculture, and what we need to do to feed Maine and New England with healthful crops. A post-keynote workshop on feeding New England is covered here, as well.

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On June 21, the Senate passed its version of a nearly $500 billion Farm Bill to replace the law that expires on September 30. The House Agriculture Committee addressed the bill in July. The bill should now go to the House floor for a full vote. If passed, it will go to House-Senate conference where the two drafts will be reconciled before being sent to the president for his signature.

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The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in June that the U.S. law allowing labeling of foods regarding their country of origin violates the WTO Technical Barrier to Trade agreement. A 2010 Consumers Union poll showed that 93 percent of Americans want to know where their food comes from.

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The Maine towns of Appleton and Livermore have passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance, joining Sedgwick, Penobscot, Blue Hill, Trenton, Hope and Plymouth. All ordinances were passed by voters at town meetings.

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U.S. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Brian SnyderLocal, sustainable food production is the way to feed our communities and the world, and we need fundamental change in U.S. farm policy to achieve that. So said two speakers at MOFGA’s 2011 Farmer to Farmer Conference. Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), was a keynote speaker at the conference, and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree followed his speech with comments about the Farm Bill.

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As of April 2011, Blue Hill, Penobscot and Sedgwick, Maine, had adopted “The Ordinance to Protect the Health and Integrity of the Local Food System,” asserting that towns can determine their own food and farming policies and exempting direct food
sales from state and federal license and inspection requirements when the food is sold directly to consumers for consumption in the home.

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Recent media attention on local foods has raised public awareness about the health benefits and community returns from thriving local agriculture. Often, though, stories portray local "foodies" as purists fixated on 100-mile diets that banish even imported condiments. Eating from local sources comes off looking like an extremist food fad, rather than a practical means of supporting one's home ecosystem and economy. These caricatures of local eating may undermine the cause by scaring off mainstream eaters who aren't seeking radical dietary change.

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In May 2010, MOFGA commissioned an independent Portland firm to survey 400 likely Maine voters about how and why they buy local foods. The survey repeated three questions the firm asked in 2004. The results not only tell why and how people buy local foods; they also highlight trends in these areas over the past six years.

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Barrels MarketAfter several years of planning, Barrels Community Market opened in July 2009 in a formerly vacant storefront on Main Street in Waterville in the “Barrell Block,” named for former owner Charles Barrell. The market emphasizes community in everything it does. Products sold at the market are sourced primarily from area farmers, food producers and crafters.

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How do we transcend the current trendiness of “local” and build an authentic local food system in Maine? The first pillar of a local food system is farms. We need more farms, more farmers and more farmland. To that end MOFGA incubates about 15 new farm businesses a year through its journeyperson program, and many more new farms and local food businesses are filling the need for more local foods.

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Ron Beard moderated a discussion on WERU radio’s Talk of the Towns entitled “Maine Feeds Maine: Is this an idea whose time has come again”? Panelists Jane Livingston, Logan Perkins and Jim Cook were all central to the success of Maine Feeds Maine.

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John Jemison“What are we going to do when Wal-Mart doesn’t exist anymore?”

I think about the question that John Jemison posed from his Orono office, overlooking the Stillwater River. He’s talking about the ability of companies such as Wal-Mart to exist because our government subsidizes fuel costs for transporting products and consumers to big box stores, and such companies don’t pay for the negative externalities caused by burning fossil fuels.

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A cruel paradox in our world today is that a disproportionate number of lower income people are obese. Of Mainers with under $25,000 annual household income, 25% are obese, compared with 15% of those with incomes of $50,000 or greater. One factor contributing to this discrepancy is the cost of healthful food.

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Street markets offer more fresh produce choices than supermarkets at half the price, according to new economics foundation (nef) research for Friends of Queens Market in East London. Local markets also benefit the local economy and create twice as many jobs per square meter of retail as supermarkets. Development planned for the Market site would threaten the local economy and community, adds nef.

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“The mission of the Winter Cache Project is to free ourselves from a dependence on industrial agriculture and to increase our community food security by developing sustainable local food systems. By growing and storing our own food to last throughout the winter, and educating ourselves about agricultural issues, we aim to create a working example of how we can come together as a community to provide for our basic needs using the principles of mutual aid, equal access and self-determination.”

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Contempt for hierarchical power and hope for self-sufficiency first brought people to the open prairie. Today those inherited sentiments have some residents renouncing the national food production and distribution system, charging that it is inequitable, delivers largely ho-hum products, decreases food safety, and disconnects farmers from the people eating their food. Countering the dominant system, a program in northeastern Iowa is using locally produced and processed food to create equitable economic growth and to show that personal relationships have economic value.

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The Spring Growth Conference held by MOFGA in March asked what roles farmers, consumers and citizens may play in the global food economy. Lawrence Woodward, director of the Elm Farm Research Centre in Berkshire, United Kingdom, brought his perspective from that leading institution of organic agriculture research and education. Woodward complimented MOFGA on its widely-respected conferences and on being genuinely grassroots organic, "a rare and valuable thing in a sector that is increasingly losing touch with or selling its soul."

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Molly AndersonMolly Anderson, U.S. Regional Program Manager for Oxfam America, asked how we link local and global food systems to build better, stronger, sustainable food systems that become the norm rather than a fringe movement.

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Fred KirschenmannAt the 2005 Spring Growth Conference Fred Kirschenmann addressed four of 10 challenges that the Leopold Center has identified that "will profoundly affect agriculture over the next 15 to 25 years or less." They are fossil fuel depletion; environmental degradation; climate change; and a bankrupt farm economy.

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Lawrence WoodwardLawrence Woodward is the director of the Elm Farm Research Centre, in Berkshire, UK, a world leader in organic agriculture research and education. His topic is the relationship of soil quality to food quality, and the importance for the organic movement to make this connection in the public’s mind.

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Vern Grubinger's epiphany was the topic of his keynote speech at MOFGA and Cooperative Extension's Farmer to Farmer Conference in Bar Harbor last November [2004]. He was the vegetable and berry specialist with University of Vermont Extension, but realized that nobody was going out of business from lack of knowledge about how to grow vegetables. "The challenges to farmers are actually much broader.

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